My father does not fit into a nutshell, and this is not a remark on his physiognomy, (though if that were the case, it would have to be a very large nut, a type not found on this planet).
This morning I woke up later than usual, having stayed out past midnight last night with friends. My father greeted me in the kitchen, where upon the countertops were lying various half-fruits, freshly cut. I smelled pineapple and a hint of peach. A small huddle of kiwis balanced near the counter’s edge. In the middle of it all were two gorgeous glasses of freshly blended fruit smoothies, one of which he handed to me.
“I put apples and peaches in it today,” he said. I noticed a spray of grey hair fanning out from the back of his head, styled from last night’s sleep. I took the smoothie, silently acknowledging that it was Father’s Day and that the smoothie hand-off should have happened the other way around.
“Happy Father’s Day,” I said.
“Oh,” he replied, and shrugged, pointing to the other glass, “That’s for Amy.” He said. My friend was still sleeping, having stayed over to avoid driving home buzzed.
“Great,” I said, and mentioned that my friends had come over last night before we headed out, “I gave them some of your Johnny Walker Blue Label to drink. They like whiskey. I hope that’s okay.”
He nodded, slurping from his own smoothie, “Of course it’s okay,” he said, “Did you guys finish the bottle? I have a few more I can bring out.”
Of course we didn’t finish the bottle, there was still plenty left but it settled me to know that even if we had and left the house in a drunken mess, my dad wouldn’t judge us, or me.
My mother likes to lament that my father is not so romantic. She likes to travel, he likes to watch travel documentaries. She doesn’t mind trying new foods. My father rotates his meals out between Sam Woo, Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ, and Ma’s Islamic Chinese Cuisine. She can get pretty emotional, over sentimental YouTube Videos. My father says things like, “I understand you’re sad, but why are you crying?” On top of all that, he can be quite callous at times, possessing a strange sense of humor comprised of bad English puns I wish I could relegate to some black hole of language and lofty Chinese ones I don’t understand. He likes bad slapstick too – there’s a terrible show on TV that features really bad accidents in which people are mortally injured. I think it’s called “The 20 Worst Freak Accidents Of the Week,” and from my room, I often hear him roaring with laughter at some poor slob’s demise unfortunately caught on tape.
“You gotta see this!” he’ll say, if I happen to be walking by, and he’ll excitedly rewind some guy getting run over by a rogue cattle truck or stabbed in the groin by an angry bull at a bullfight.
“I don’t want to see that stuff, Dad.”
“But it’s funny!”
Usually I walk away.
Despite of these, uh, shortcomings, my mother sums up my father’s essence: he makes her feel safe. My father is a problem solver – he doesn’t believe in complaining or dark moods or other types of unproductive behaviors. (Though if he sits too long in my Prius he’ll complain about the poor ergonomics of its seats because there is usually nothing better to do when he’s riding shotgun in the Prius).
When I was sixteen and just started driving on freeways, I volunteered to take three friends to the movies. My father’s friend warned me to avoid freeways if I felt uncomfortable and I’d scoffed, saying, “I can handle it.” I got on the wrong freeway, then like the road warrior I am, jumped over the dividing curb to get on the right freeway, and heard a loud crack. Everything seemed fine until the car, a massive Toyota Land Cruiser, started leaning right, and soon there was another crack, a loud clang clang clang followed by louder, faster clangs as I foolishly sped up and it wasn’t until I saw sparks in my right rear-view mirror that I realized something was terribly wrong with my right front wheel and that if I didn’t pull off the freeway soon, the car might become engulfed in flames and I’d be responsible for three deaths on top of my own.
I made it off the freeway and saw in horror that the right front wheel was no longer there; what remained was a single stubborn scrap of rubber and the badly banged up rim that had ground so viciously upon the asphalt.
“I think your wheel’s missing,” some smart ass teenager said, skateboarding by.
Jesus, I thought, my father will be pissed. Not only was I reckless with the car, but I’d endangered my friends. But I was stranded at a Del Taco and I still needed to find a way to get us home. I called my father, who was having dinner at (surprise, surprise), Sam Woo with a rowdy group of friends. I had an accident, I said, and in one breath continued to tell him what happened. I could sense him nodding over the din, perhaps gravely, but someone burst out laughing right next to him and I realized he hadn’t even left the table to take my call.
“Is everyone alright?” he asked.
Yes, I said. None of us were hurt.
“Where were you going?”
To a movie, I said, but I think we’re going to miss it now.
“Get your brother to take you guys,” he said, “As long as no one’s hurt, then everything’s fine. Just leave the car there. Your brother and I will deal with it tomorrow.”
My brother came, equally calm as my father, and raised his eyebrows when he saw where the wheel had been.
“You think dad’ll be mad?”
My brother gave me a surprised look. Five years older with ten thousand times more patience, he spent more time than I did talking with our father, “Dad doesn’t get mad about stuff like this.”
Calmly, my brother drove us to the theater and after the movie, picked us up. The next morning, he and my father went to get the car towed and fixed.
My father came back incredulous, “How did you drive for so long with no wheel?”
“I didn’t know if I could stop on the freeway,” I looked at him. My father is not one to be attached to material things, but I knew he loved the car, which he refused to get rid of despite my constant pointing out its awful gas mileage.
“You’re not mad?”
He grew more incredulous, “Why would I get mad? What would that accomplish? Did you still have a good time last night?”
I nodded, “It was nice of Guh to come pick us up. We still got to see the movie.”
My father nodded, “Yes, that was nice of your brother. And I had a good time too, because he was able to do that, and because you guys weren’t hurt. It was just the car. If the car breaks, fix the car -”
But he paused, a horrible thought unfolding, “If it’d been a smaller, lower car, like the mini-Cooper (which was the car I’d wanted at the time) you guys could have gotten seriously hurt.”
I nodded, “I’m surprised there was no other damage. It’s a good car.”
My father smiled, “Aren’t you glad I kept the Land Cruiser?”